Keselowski routs Richmond field to grab top seed
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — Brad Keselowski routed the field at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday to earn his fourth win of the season and the top seed in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Keselowski led for all but 17 of the 400 laps at Richmond, where the last race of the regular season never shaped up to be the thriller NASCAR had hoped. A new win-and-in format could have created a dramatic final push for a driver to make the Chase field, but nobody could catch Keselowski.
“What a night. I pulled into Victory lane and I pinched myself once to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” he said. “These are nights you don’t forget as a driver and you live for.”
Keselowski came to Richmond a year ago needing a strong finish to make the Chase field, but failed and was not eligible to defend his title. Now he’ll try to give Team Penske a season sweep — Will Power gave the organization the IndyCar championship a week ago.
“I think last year was a bit of a kick in the butt,” Keselowski said. “It was enough to really push us all and find another level. We did a great job in 2012, but in the sports world you’ve got to keep progressing. Everyone else progressed and we didn’t.”
There were two spots up for grab in this year’s 16-driver Chase field, but Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle entered the race in control of their own fates. Newman never left anything to chance with a strong ninth-place finish, and Biffle slid into the final spot with a 19-place finish.
“When you are that far off, it is the hardest thing in the world to drive,” Biffle said. “This is the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life, drive and try to stay in the top 20.”
Jeff Gordon, the points leader for much of the regular season, finished second. Clint Bowyer, who needed to win to guarantee his Chase berth, was a disappointing third.
“I knew coming in here, it was a long shot at best,” Bowyer said. “We put it all out there. I raced as hard as we could. At our very best, we were a third-place race car tonight at my very best race track.”
Bowyer was caught in the middle of a scandal at this race a year ago when his late-race spin helped then-teammate Martin Truex Jr. make the Chase field at the expense of Newman. NASCAR eventually threw Truex out of the Chase, put Newman in and added Gordon as an additional driver.
Defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson finished eighth but was suffering from dehydration when he exited the car and had to be helped to a cart by his Hendrick Motorsports crew. He was treated with five liters of fluids at the infield care center.
“I got dehydrated in the car and I’m not exactly sure what led to it,” he said. “I started cramping when I got out of the race car and when I was cramping, I was trying to stand up and I got dizzy, so I sat back down.”
Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon said it gets hot in the car.
“I know there was a couple times throughout the race where I felt like I was cramping, as well,” he said. “It’s hard to keep your fluids.”
Tony Stewart, in his second race back since his car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at a New York dirt track event, finished 15th. He would have been eligible to compete in the Chase had he won Saturday night’s race based on a waiver NASCAR gave him upon his return last week.
The three-time champion had cracked the top 10 but his crew missed a lug nut on a late pit stop that took him out of contention.
This is the third time in the 11 years of the Chase format that Stewart has failed to qualify. The three-time champion missed the Chase last season when a broken leg sidelined him for the final 15 races of the year.
Stewart did not wish to speak with reporters after climbing from his car, team spokesman Mike Arning said.
NASCAR was forced to call a caution with 71 laps remaining because a fan had climbed to the top of the fence that separates the track and grandstands. Most of the field used the break to pit and Keselowski remained in control.